Tuesday, June 30, 2009

To Lakewood to Boro Park to the Gay Pride Parade in Manhattan: My Weekend (Part II)

(Part I)

I met up with my friend Dallas Blumenfield for lunch Sunday in Manhattan. I roomed with Dallas for two years when I was at Yeshiva University. The two of us were involved with the Drama Society and waitered on weekends. I would describe Dallas as my gay Texas Jewish Republican, complete with multiple pairs of several hundred dollar boots. Dallas is not actually gay (for one thing he is now happily married to a woman) though he does, in many respects, fit the stereotype. Dallas is the sort of person comfortable enough with his sexuality not to particularly care if he gives the imprecision that he is not straight. It was because of Dallas that I became a follower of Queer as Folk. I never actually saw more than a few scenes of the show, but I became familiar with the show, its characters and plotlines from hearing it across the room and from Dallas filling me in on the details. I should also mention that Dallas is right now working on becoming a rabbi.

By some strange quirk of fate we had lunch a block away from Fifth Avenue, down which the Gay Pride Parade was marching. So after lunch we both went to have a look at what Dallas jokingly referred to as the “freak show.” I promptly berated him for his prejudiced attitude.
So here we were; two nice Jewish men arm and arm. I think we fit in quite nicely. What really struck about the whole event was how mainstream it was. (Men in leather thongs being as about as extreme as it got) There was nothing there that would be particularly out of place anywhere else in midtown Manhattan. Granted, that you can get away with almost anything in Manhattan today. I would see this as a reason to accept the gay rights movement’s agenda; if you can put up with Manhattan than you should be able to put with them. Alternatively, a heterosexual society that has created a Manhattan for itself frankly deserves the full normalization of homosexuality.

This parade was not all that different from parades honoring the Irish or the Italians. There were quite a number of local politicians walking. You can say that by now it is a necessary part of New York City politics, particularly if you are a Democrat, to walk. There was a gay running club, a gay rugby club and a gay sailing club. For some strange reason people think that there something radical or revolutionary about arguing for gay rights. If you have politicians trolling for your vote like any other interest group and particular social clubs to cater to the interests of members of your social group than you are no different from any other social group with the same moral standing as any other social group. Just as social groups such as the Irish and the Italians have the right to pursue their self interest as something distinct from their rights so too do homosexuals. But let us be absolutely clear, just because something is in the gay community’s best interest does not mean it is a right.

I am not sure what to make of the fact that someone with a yarmulke was walking in the parade. Maybe this person was simply showing his moral support as a fellow liberal. I wonder if the person is Orthodox or not. If he was a secular Jew, who simply put on a yarmulke for the event to identify himself as a Jew, should I take it as an offense? My inclination is to see this in a positive light and embrace this person as someone pursuing his own Jewish journey even though I may have problems with the means by which he does this. I think it is simplistic and unhelpful to simply cast this person as someone trying to destroy Judaism.



This is why we need gays in the military. As fans of Mel Brooks understand, if we had a gay sergeant in the gay Peruvian Indians, than we could crush France in six weeks.


Now I am flying off to England. Stay tuned.









Monday, June 29, 2009

To Lakewood to Boro Park to the Gay Pride Parade in Manhattan: My Weekend (Part I)

For my final weekend here in the United States, before going to England, I went to New York with father and step-mother. They were going to a wedding and a bar-mitzvah of the children of friends of theirs (No it was not the same people getting married and bar-mitzvahed.); since these were families that I am also close to, I came along as well. Both of the families are very Haredi so I could count on sticking out at these events even more than I usually do. At Ohio State I may be a strange sight, but someone like me still makes sense as a legitimate member of that society. Also at Ohio State I can count on a lower rate of statements made as a matter of casual fact that I not only disagree with but find downright immoral and offensive.

The wedding was Thursday night in Lakewood New Jersey, a bastion of Haredi Orthodoxy where everything from a serious secular education to the internet is banned. Soon after arriving, a little kid asked me why I did not have a black hat. I told him jokingly that I had lost mine. My other response in my mental rolodex for such situations is that I still need to grow up. Truth be told, I wore a black hat until two years ago. (I had been thinking of stopping to wear it since I was a teenager, ever since I became conscious of the gap between me and the Haredi world, but could never summon the initiative to stop engaging in a daily ritual; how do I justify not doing something one day when I had been doing it the day before and the day before that? I often ponder this as a major religious challenge. If I found it so difficult to back out of such a trivial practice than how could I ever hope to summon the intellectual courage if I ever wished to point blank abandon Orthodox Judaism. If I lack the hypothetical intellectual courage to abandon Orthodox Judaism than my decision to remain within the bounds of Orthodox Judaism becomes an exercise in rationalizing away my own cowardice.)

As the wedding was dying down I called my friend, Nick Connelly, to tell him that I was calling from Lakewood. Nick is not Jewish but knows a lot about Jewish politics. I gave him permission to come in, beat me over the head, and drag me out if I failed to leave of my own volition. Nick then told me the news that Michael Jackson had died that afternoon. Having been away from the internet the whole afternoon I had been unaware of this. To which Nick responded that this proved that I was in Lakewood.

After the wedding my folks and I went over to Borough Park in Brooklyn New York, another bastion of Haredism. Friday morning, in search of an internet connection I made my way to a local branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, where I managed to get in several hours of fruitful work besides for internet surfing. I was struck by the amount of clearly Haredi individuals coming into the library, many of whom were clearly not there for the libraries remarkably extensive Judaic section. I was pleased to hear one young woman ask about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and Chaucer's the Canterbury Tales. The most intriguing thing was the parade of Haredi men coming in to use the internet on the library’s computers. (No I was not close enough to see if they were looking at porn; I sincerely hope they were not.) As someone who believes in studying history from the bottom up and from the edge, I am intrigued by such people and their motives? Here they are identifying themselves with a given community, breaking a taboo of that community in a public place where anyone (even me) could see them. One assumes that these people do not have access to the internet in their homes, a more serious infraction of the internet taboo, but also less public. I hope that a future writer of the history of Haredim in the early twenty-first century would have the subversive turn of mind to look beyond those putting out the bans and make these Haredi internet users the center of their discussion of Haredim and their attempts to ban the internet.

Over Shabbos I got into a number of interesting conversations and I must say that everyone was really nice to me. (This is probably the community’s greatest strength. Contrary to stereotype, once you get past the initial barrier and establish yourself as a non-threat, this is a very welcoming community that will embrace outsiders.) A particular one that comes to mind was a conversation I was thrown in middle of as to whether there are more people alive today than all the people from past times combined. I vaguely remember hearing such a thing, but I do not have the sources to back the claim up. Population Studies are not a field that I have any expertise in nor do I have much of a head for mathematics. Furthermore I was asked to attempt combine rabbinic assumptions about populations in the ancient world with the views of academics. This creationist style thinking, combining a veneer of scholarship with academic nonsense, is something that usually appeals to my intellectual sense of absurdity, but this is the sort of absurdity that requires my brain to be working at full capacity, which it was not at that time of night. Word got around about me, even to strangers, that I was a historian. This brought with it a certain level of curiosity. One boy came up to me to tell me that he had a rebbe in Lakewood teaching them Jewish history, who was a genius. The optimist in me wishes to believe that even in the bowels of Lakewood there could be someone trying to teach Jewish history and not simply Haredi propaganda. The realist in me assumes otherwise.

(To be continued …)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Asael VI

This is part of my ongoing novel. Think of it as Killer Angels taking place in a musket and magic fantasy world with characters that combine the religious sensibilities of American revivalism with Beowulf-like blood feuds. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Introduction, A Note from the Author, Prologue, I, II, III,IV, V

Asael had been seven at the time of that conversation and he still did not understand what Ima had meant by that.

Having finished setting up his pieces and placing Colonel Kochba’s two remaining ones on the board as well, Asael pushed a pedes forward. It was the one in front of the regina, not his usual opening, but the Colonel was clearly a powerful attacker in the open. Asael knew that if he was going to win this he was going to have to close this game off. Colonel Kochba sent a matching pedes. The next few moves were quick, as Colonel Kochba responded to Asael’s moves mechanically, from book memory.

Colonel Kochba cleared his throat. “You have been creating quite a stir over at command. Your paper has won you quite a following, Serariah, Strategos Hayes and I at least.” The words came out very matter of factly, but something in his tone told Asael that the Colonel had been weighing these words for quite some time.

Serariah responded rather tartly, as if to end the conversation before it began. “When I resigned from the military, Strategos Hayes disowned me and I have not spoken to him since.” Colonel Kochba moved another piece on the board and gave an innocent smile. “You were his favorite and you broke his heart after all the effort he put into getting you into school, in making sure you did not get kicked out and getting you a commission despite the fact that you had no family and no connections.”

“And now I teach applied mathematics and occasionally even publish on the subject matter.”

“Like your little fifty page discourse on the economics of cavalry, ‘Twenty Pounds of Hay and Eight Pounds of Oats.’ If I did not make it my practice to keep an eye out for your work I might have missed it.”

“That article was a purely theoretical exercise in applying physiocrat principles to a military problem, something no one in the military would ever do so I think I am safe in saying that nothing there can be said to be of any relevance to the military.”

“You analyze the cost of maintaining a cavalry grade horse, raising it, training it, feeding it and getting onto a battlefield. You conclude that horses are an economic liability.”

Seeing an opening Asael moved his eques. Colonel Kochba continued to speak: “You suggest, what were your words, ‘that we send the horse and its rider down to the sea’ and that ‘the horse is of greatest value to the military when boiled down for glue.’ Serariah, I know I was an utter failure at teaching you horsemanship, you were a lousy student, but isn’t this taking your revenge against me a little too far.”

“I do not consider the universal application of mathematics to be an act of revenge. I take it that you do not dispute my calculations.”

“You do realize that if you ever got past the Joint, the beards would put you on trial for heresy.”

“For speaking evil of the horse or for suggesting that even the Mesivta is under the authority of universal mathematical law. I think I am capable of supporting myself through Holy Writ on both counts.”

Colonel Kochba moved again and Asael was certain now that the Colonel had blundered.

“How about for being so pedantically orthodox and yet so suspiciously not of their kind that one can only surmise that you are a plant put in place by the Devil to facilitate the corruption of the faithful? I would be too obvious a plant so we can safely rule out the Devil ever recruiting me.”

“The king shall not have many horses lest his heart turn astray” chanted Serariah. “'Many,' said the Rabanan, to mean more than is needed to pull his chariot.”

“And a king to exclude our Republic and the beards, incorruptible in their piety, who act as its stewards,” said Colonel Kochba, using a mocking sing-song voice.

“This gives me a past pedes on you," said Asael. "If I play this right I should have be able to ennoble it."

Colonel Kochba gave Asael a wry smile. Asael closed his eyes and saw Colonel Kochba’s face turn loathfully demonic as it seemed to sprout scales and horns. Colonel Kochba looked at the board and gingerly turned over his rex in resignation. “I guess that should teach me to pay better attention next time.”

Serariah moved alongside his son; first he shook his son’s hand and then Colonel Kochba’s before beginning to put the pieces away. “So now you have lost to both of us. No more games for you to hide behind. If you want something you are going to have to come right out and ask for it.”

“I am not asking, I am offering.”

“I am not coming back to the military and that is final,” bellowed Serariah.

“Would not think of asking it. I know you too well, Serariah, and have too much respect for you. I am actually offering you the job you already have.”

“How can you offer me something I already have?”

“In three months time you are set to be reviewed for tenure. Knowing you, your chances of getting tenure are about what mine are for being appointed head beard.”

“I have made my share of opponents.”

“Half of the university staff, including several deans. Sometimes I really do not get you Serariah. You gave up being Hayes’ golden boy, with his full protection, for a world in which you actually have to play politics, which you have no skill with, and you actually think you are going to survive.”

“I do not play politics. I do my job and the rest I leave in better hands. ” Serariah emphasized the last words with a sense of calm resignation; there could be no doubt whose better hands he meant.

“You have a wife, two children, with a third on the way.” Colonel Kochba shrugged his shoulders. “I do take an active interest in my best friend’s personal life.”

“If that is my fate it will be no less than I deserve.”

“Well better hands are coming through.”

“I have no need for any favors from Hayes, I still owe too many on that account.”

Colonel Kochba held up his hands with his palms facing Serariah and Asael. “I spoke to some friends and those friends spoke to a friend, who just happens to be the chancellor of Bar Enosh University, which by a strange coincidence is the university that, barring divine interference, is going to be the third university to deny you tenure and fire you.”

“I do not require any favors from you either,” barked Serariah, his patience spent.

“This is not a favor. I just wished to pass on the good news that the chancellor thinks you are going to pass the review and get tenure with a fifty percent raise in salary. He sounded very confident of that.”

“What is the catch?”

“None! I was just hoping to send a mixture of cadet officers and NCOs to this fine university. I hear the faculty is superb and, since we no longer send our boys to Wolfenbuttel, I have suggested that we give them a university education closer to home.”

“What do you want from me?”

“I am giving you the only sort of students you are qualified to teach and I want you to teach them the sorts of things you do best. The essay on cavalry should make for a wonderful start. The rest I will leave to your unique brand of creativity.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers Wipes Israel off the Map

Yesterday I went with my good friend Lionel Spiegel to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I will not comment on the movie itself other than to say that it was Mystery Science Theater 3000 quality. Lionel and I were laughing our heads off the entire movie and not in a good way; for one thing we were probably being a nuisance to everyone around us. What really caught my attention was how the movie deals with Israel and the Middle East. As with much of what is wrong with how Israel gets reported on in the media, this is a sin of omission rather than commission. The final battle between the Autobots, along with their mostly American allies, and the Decepticons, led by the Fallen (a Monty Python worthy evil villain), takes place around an Egyptian Pyramid, along the border with Jordan. For those of you not familiar with the geography of the Middle East, here is a map of the area in question.




As you can see, while Egypt is very close to Jordan, there is a little resort town called Elat separating Egypt from Jordan. I have been to Elat; it is a beautiful place, perfect for anyone with a sense for political humor. From Elat you can look out and see Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia; all this while remaining firmly in the State of Israel. For some strange reason Michael Bay failed to notice that Israel lies between Egypt and Jordan. (This is all the worse as Steven Spielberg is listed as a producer. One would have hoped that he would have jumped on such a mistake.)
This removal of Israel becomes even more ridiculous when the humans put out a call for help to the Egyptian military, whose country they are in, and the Jordanians and several Jordanian helicopters take part in the battle, mainly by getting blown out of the sky. Last I checked the Middle East superpower in the air is Israel, not Jordan. Why couldn’t we have Israel jets shooting it out with the Decepticons to save the world? This could have even been a good opportunity to stick in a peace process message by having Israel fight alongside the Muslim countries of Egypt and Jordan. Particularly since, even in real life, Israel is at peace with both of these countries.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Benzion Netanyahu: Where the Middle Ages and the Middle East Collide

Erich Follath’s “Is war between Iran and Israel inevitable?” (Originally run in Der Speigel but translated for Salon) is a good example of liberal moral equivalency. Its essential premise, after hypocritically acknowledging that the two are not morally equivalent, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are very much alike and the combination of the two of them makes it likely that a major conflict in the Middle East will erupt. Forget the fact that Israel recognizes Iran as a Shiite Muslim state and desires to have peace with it. Forget the fact that Netanyahu is a secular Jew with no apocalyptic pretentions. What caught my attention in this otherwise banal article was that it refers to my area of interest, medieval Jewish history. Follath mentions Benjamin Netanyahu’s father, the historian Benzion Netanyahu and his book, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. (A few years ago, during Passover, I asked my father for a deluxe Spanish Inquisition action figure set as my way of requesting this book. Once you are finished reading it you can hit people over the head with it in the hope of doing serious bodily harm.) As Follath notes:

In his more than 1,300-page opus, the key points of which he conveyed to his sons in hours of family readings, the historian argues that the Spaniards were more strongly motivated by racism than religion in their pogroms against the Jews during the Inquisition. He also argues that militant anti-Semitism is always an expression of unmotivated hatred, and that there is only one possible response to it: militant and, if necessary, preventive Jewish self-defense.

I am not sure what Follath’s background in Jewish history is or if he actually bothered to read Benzion Netanyahu for himself, but pogrom violence is certainly very different than Inquisition violence. A basic point of the senior Netanyahu’s is that the Spanish Inquisition only came about in the years after the major anti-converso riots. This is important because Netanyahu wants to argue that the Inquisition only came about after Judaizing conversos had stopped being a real issue and therefore the real purpose of the Inquisition could only have been to eliminate Christians of Jewish descent.

I am not a fan of Benzion Netanyahu’s work precisely because it speaks too much to a modern historical agenda. In Netanyahu’s case, as a man nearing his 100th birthday, this “modern” agenda is the failure of pre-war secular Jewry, particularly in Germany, to forestall the threat of Nazism, a brand of anti-Semitism that had nothing to do with religion. When discussing Benzion Netanyahu with other people I often find myself walking the exact opposite path as Follath. Benzion Netanyahu happens to be the father of a certain right wing Israeli politician of the same name, which is a good indicator of his politics. This is a right wing secular Zionist, who left Israel and became a history professor at Cornell because Israel was being run by a bunch of leftists.

Follath simply shoehorns Netanyahu into the needs of his article. Another useful of thinking of the senior Netanyahu’s politics as it plays out in his history books is that Jews should not put their trust in gentiles like Follath, however well meaning they might be, in the hope that they will protect them from the likes of those like Ahmadinejad, who wish to kill Jews simply because they are Jews.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Compliments and Other Rewards of Blogging

I readily confess that there is something downright egotistical about blogging. To become a blogger means to assume that random people from vague acquaintances to random strangers would wish to read your thoughts about life the universe and everything. (Including Douglas Adams) I have no particular qualifications for world pontificator being only twenty-six years old and still working on my doctorate. The truth is I only started doing this because a girl I liked told me that she would be curious as to what a blog written by me would look like. Before I had the chance to write a serious post this same girl told me that I was a bright wonderful person and that she thought it would be for the best if we never spoke again. I found writing to be an effective way to cope with the depression that followed plus I maintained the forlorn hope that this would bring the girl back. (This was a different girl from my ex from last summer. I tend to get my heart broken a lot when it comes to women.) As it has been nearly three years I have come to accept that this is not going to happen and I have moved on to further adventures in glorious singlehood. There is not much in the way of money to be made from blogging though I seem to have a fan from the Oh Nuts candy company who around holidays offers certain rather generous compensations for putting up an ad for his company. If I were being charitable to myself I would say that I love having a positive influence on people. This, though, is often hard to distinguish from pride as a motive for writing. There is something intoxicating about random people contacting you and telling you how you have had a positive influence on them and what a brilliant person you are.

This past weekend I randomly bumped into a person of some prominence within the Jewish community and he knew who I was and told me how wonderful it was to meet me in person. This person told me that he read this blog and was particularly moved by a post of mine discussing the situation of his generation in relationship to mine.

There was a regular commentator that I only knew through his alias; I wondered who he might be and where he might live. Imagine my surprise when he walked over to me while I was sitting in my building lobby, introduced himself and said that mine was one of his favorite blogs. Not only did he live in my building, he actually lived on my floor. We talked face to face for several hours. Contrary to what I imagined him to be, he was a Hindu male of medium height. Much of our conversation dealt with his attempt, though he views himself as secular, to find meaning within his own faith tradition.

I have received several pieces of fan email, the nicest was one sent a few weeks ago.

Thanks for your blog. I'm reading what I can. I'd love to have hours to write, but since I don't here's why I am writing to you. I am the mother to four children ... We are all somewhere on some spectrum, my youngest son on the verge of an official diagnosis of AS. I have been avidly reading for the last month on the subject, but as a chassidic (Chadad) Jew (baal tshuva) I have been taken very much by your blog. It is refreshing and honest. Plus, I have always loved history, though I don't feel I understand it at all, meaning, it's hard for me to grasp all the perspectives (my own AS problem I think). History seems to me like a messy room...but for that matter, so does Gemara. ...

I am fascinated by images ... I am now taken to the images of Jewish history straight from the text, such as Chumash, Tehillum and Davening. I am often brought to tears by the words so powerful.

In your blog, you
allude to something to the order of Jews and a strong relationship to AS. Or maybe that Orthodox Jews are isolated in their own world. Actually, I am having a hard time putting into words what I read in your blog about your views of Orthodoxy and autism, but I do recall being lost in thought for several days on the subject of "Was Moshe AS, how about Avroham?" Could be I am looking through AS eyes at all my heroes and seeing how they stack up on the spectrum, friend or foe.

But most importantly, I admire you for living out your personhood, expressing yourself and thereby giving me some hope for my youngest son. ... I do wonder about my son. You raise the issue of labels and shidduch and all that. And so many other areas. …


Probably the nicest thing to happen to me from this blog is a friend I first met here their comments and then got to meet in real life. We now talk on a regular basis. Part of what makes this person so much fun is that we disagree on so much. This person operates from a very different background and perspective from my own and has truly been an eye opener for me. This person would probably not wish to be named so I will remain silent as to their identity.

At the end of the day I am not certain I can defend the amount of time I invest in this blog considering all the other things I have to do. With all the wonderful people I have met through this blog I feel vindicated. Of course if this blog ended up opening the door for a job or a fellowship that would be all the better. If this blog ended up resulting in a relationship with a female that did not end with me in tears and depression than that would be really special. For now I will take the occasional compliment and fan email.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Plea for Racism: Let it Mean Something

Kim Gandy, the president of NOW, in her recent Below the Belt column, responded to the charge of reverse racism against Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. According to Gandy: “Reverse racism -- an oxymoron, since the systems that oppress cannot be simply reversed, and certainly not by a single individual …” This is a common response by many liberals when conservatives throw around charges of racism of their own. The meaning of the word “racism” is redefined to mean the acts of oppression of the dominant culture, i.e. people who are white, Christian and male. The idea here is that not only is a given member of a minority group, whether they are Hispanic or Black, not guilty of racism, but that by definition they are incapable of being racist. I speak here not as a conservative trying to score points but as a liberal. As a follower of the liberal tradition this willingness to narrowly tailor the meaning of racism concerns me as it should concern anyone for whom racism is a real issue to be fought and not just a charge to be thrown around as part of some power game.

Let us consider some of the implications of this definition of racism as something that only applies to people outside of power. Gandy does not seem to appreciate that racism often arises from a perception of powerlessness and a desire to strike out against a perceived racial oppressor. Take the rise of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstructionist America, a definitive example of racism if there ever was one in American history. From the perspective of Southern apologetics (Watch Birth of a Nation if you want to see a good example of this.) it was white Southerners who were being oppressed by an alliance of Northerners and blacks. Now one has to admit that these Southerners had a point; the South lost the Civil War, was devastated and at the mercy of the North. Northern abolitionists wished to help former slaves and saw them as useful allies in ruling over the former members of the Confederacy. This does not justify the actions of the Klan. Personally I think the South deserved what happened to them and actually got off too lightly. That being said the Klan was coming from a position of lacking power. They may have struck against those who had even less power, but that still does not make their actions that of the powerful. At the end of the day, as horrible as their actions were, these were actions that came out of a lack of power. If we apply the liberal definition of racism honestly then we must accept that however we wish to describe the horrors of the Southern response to Reconstruction we cannot call it racism.

What about Nazi Germany? The Nazis arouse after the defeat of Germany in World War I and the crushing peace treaty of Versailles. I am not suggesting that the Allies were not in their rights to put forth such a treaty nor am I blaming Versailles for Hitler. What we have to realize that Nazism came out of Germany’s loss of power. So the Nazis might have preached about the inferiority of Jews and other racial minorities and murdered them out of sense that these groups were subhuman, but the Nazis cannot be labeled as racists since their actions came from their not having power. It should even be noted here that the bulk of the killing of Jews happened during the second half of the war when Germany was clearly heading toward defeat so even these actions were those of a lack of power.

On a more serious note, how should a person like me respond to Jewish “racism?” Many Haredim and even people who are supposedly Modern Orthodox like to claim that non-Jews, in some sense do not have souls or do not have souls equal to that of Jews. (I admit that there are legitimate Jewish sources for such opinions, but such opinions must be rejected. I would wish for Jews to do something similar to what the Lutheran Church did in regards to Martin Luther’s statements on Jews and officially declare such views to be outside of what a Jew is allowed to believe today.) Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, do not dominant Western culture and these statements are meant specifically to target people of the European Christian tradition. As such it fits perfectly into the model of an oppressed group striking out against the dominant culture and therefore, by definition, can never be racist. If I am going to follow this liberal model I therefore cannot call such statements racist. What does a supposed liberal like Gandy want me to do? Does she want me to simply keep my mouth shout, wink and smile at such statements? There are many things that one call such a course of action, liberal is not one of them.

The liberal definition of racism would, if followed consistently, rob the term of any meaning. For me that is a problem. As a follower of the liberal tradition, I believe that ultimately human beings are one group and should work together for the good of the human race as a whole. As such any form of tribalism, the idea that one should prefer one’s group over another, is a problem. I am a realist and recognize that there is a little tribalism in us all. I am therefore willing to put up with a moderate level of tribalism as long as it is kept to the sensibility of “our men are the strongest, our women the fairest and our land the most beautiful” and that even this is recognized as something absurd to be laughed at. The moment this tribalism turns to racism, that some groups are above having ethical obligations and that others are below deserving them, we have something truly dangerous on our hands. Racism is the end of all humanism and will destroy the free society. Why should members of the “master race” bother to follow the rules of a free society and why should members of “inferior races” be allowed to benefit?

I have not formed any strong opinions on Judge Sotomayor and I have no idea if she is a racist or not. For now I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. That being said I believe that this is an important question to be asked. As a white Jewish male, raised with the best of liberal values, I grew up knowing that I had responsibilities beyond simply white Jewish men and needed to look out for human beings as a whole. I do not claim to be perfect and I have my tribalist biases. I still know, though, to be ashamed of them and seek to limit them through regular doses of self examination, exposure to people who are not white, Jewish or male, and, most important of all, to laugh at myself. I, therefore, have every right to ask if Sotomayor has this same sense of working on behalf of everyone and not just Hispanic women. I deserve an answer to that question and not just to be told my question is meaningless.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Asael V

This is part of my ongoing novel. Think of it as Killer Angels taking place in a musket and magic fantasy world with characters that combine the religious sensibilities of American revivalism with Beowulf-like blood feuds. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition is about to take on a whole new meaning.

Introduction, A Note from the Author, Prologue, I, II, III,IV

Forty six years earlier:

Colonel Hasan Kochba was sitting on a park bench, oblivious to his surroundings. His only compromise with the summer weather was his brown military overcoat that lay over a nearby table several amot away. His gaze was fixed on the scacordus board in front of him with occasionally glances at his opponent and the boy sitting on the side, watching both of them. If this had been a dual one might have listed the boy as his friend’s second. It was already too late in the day for any dueling. Anyway Colonel Kochba was not the sort of man who dueled with swords or with pistols. What sort of military officer, you ask, had never been in a dual before? As Kochba liked to say: “A competent one, a live one and the only sort to be trusted with men in battle. A man who would gamble his life on a matter of pride could be trusted to hold the lives of his men as dearly.”

The game before Kochba was certainly an important matter; one could even say that he had traveled several hundred miles on horse and carriage to the town of Ekron for a few games. To be more specific, a few games with the man in front of him. The boy and the man in front of Colonel Kochba were a study in contrasts and one would have been hard pressed to tell that they were father and son. The father was a large man. In height he was only slightly above average, a few fingers under four amot, but he made up for it with a wide neck and bull-like girth. He had worn brownish olive skin and the creases on his brow gave him a look of a man older than his thirty-six years despite the fact that there was not a spot of grey in his hair or his full beard and prominent mustache. He had a droopy right eye that gave him the look of a man in a permanent stupor. Take away the pressed black suit and stiff shirt with a short grey necktie and one could easily have passed him off as a common butcher. The boy was fairer of skin. He wore knee-breaches and the dress shirt of his school uniform. Like his father, the boy had an absent gaze about him as he lay with his head resting on his knuckles. If the boy was anything like his father, Colonel Kochba knew, then that gaze was nothing less than a trap. Colonel Kochba had claimed the initiative early in the game and now more than twenty moves in was up by a pedes. His opponent had been sitting with a more than usual glazed look on his face for over four minutes now without making a move and Colonel Kochba was getting worried.

“Are you going to move, Serariah, or am I going to have to install a clock to this game.”

The sound of his Abba’s name being used so casually caused Asael to prick his ears upward. Asael began doing a quick count in his head as to how many people called father by his first name and not Professor Dolstoy. He certainly did not, that was forbidden. Ima did not whenever he was around, though used it when she thought that he and his younger sister Sion where out of earshot. Either that or when she was yelling at Abba. Ima never actually yelled at Abba, though Asael had come to realize that calling his father by his first name was her substitute. Come to think of it Ima was the one person he knew willing to yell at Abba, other people were too scared. Asael often wondered what it was about his Abba that scared people. “Abba walks and breathes in the certainty of Rachmana," he thought. "Other people do not have that faith and the guidance to match Abba’s and so quickly found themselves shamed to silence. Ima has double the faith so she does not fear to argue with him. In fact Ima preached on the Oraitha publically to women and sometimes even to men and none of the Rabanan ever objected.” Asael wondered if Colonel Kochba ever argued with Abba. How much faith did the Colonel's soul possess?

Serariah with an almost casual flick of his arm moved his episcopus three spaces along the diagonal. “So what are you going to lose, your eques or your turris,” said Serariah in a rough drawl that marked his rural background. Not for the first time since they met up this afternoon did Colonel Kochba reflect on how he missed that voice. There was a refreshing honesty to Serariah that could prove utterly misleading.

“Hardly fair! I had you there for a moment.”

“That has always been your weakness Hasan. You are always the strategist; it is when you have to follow through as the tactician that you fail.”

The game continued and true to his word, Serariah captured an eques after three moves. Colonel Kochba managed to make him pay for that with the loss of a pedes, but he was now down. The game went down for him from there. There were a few opportunities, he thought, for turning this into a draw but Serariah cut him off at every point. After another twenty minutes and fifteen moves, Colonel Kochba tilted his rex and resigned.

“I think I need to drop to junior league here. Is the young cadet up for giving me a round?”

Asael picked up his head. “I thought one always played winner.” He stood up and sat down in the seat vacated by his father. Serariah stood behind him, shadowing his son, and looked at Colonel Kochba.

“I am sure the Colonel can pay for the privilege in the finest currency of the land.” Colonel Kochba spread his hands out in a sign of poverty. “I did not bring any cigars so I’ll have to owe you one.”

“The account is not one cigar; it is five.” Serariah said this dispassionately without a hint of humor. Colonel Kochba gave a wry chuckle. “The book keeper is a bit indisposed, don’t you think.”

“The table leg at the Sisterhood’s in Wolfenbuttel, if it is still intact, should say twenty-nine to me and twenty-four to you, Hasan.”

“If I recall that table was mortally wounded in the line of duty, fending itself from excessively celebratory graduates from the Wolfenbuttel military academy.”

Asael looked up at the two men. He suspected that there was more to this story. It sounded too much like some of the chakima’s[1] telling of stories from the Oraitha. Like the time the chakima told the class about the zonah of Yabus, who although she was a nachria, saved the messengers. The chakima said that zonah meant an innkeeper. The lesson from this story, according to the chakima was that Rachmana had performed a miracle on behalf of the righteous messengers, who risked their lives to enter the city of Yabus. Ima told him that zonah meant whore. Asael had to look the word up in a dictionary, but after he finished Ima sat him down and explained to him the lesson of the story that Rachmana loved the simple faith of a whore over that of the rote belief of the messengers and it was her faith that saved them. Asael’s liked Ima’s explanation better, but there was one thing about it that bothered him; what kind of miracle was faith? He had asked Ima, but she just smiled and said: “greater than the crossing of the sea.”

[1] Religious scholar, often used to particularly refer to someone teaching school children.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

History 112: Final

Here is the final I gave my students. It consisted of two sections, identifies, where they had to give the proper context for a given person or term, and a pair of short essays for them to write. With the exception of a few disasters pretty much everyone did well on this final. The average for this final was about an 84. My philosophy is that I demand more than most from my students, but I am a fairly generous grader.

Identifies – 70 pts (Pick 7)
1. Friedrich Engels
2. John Calvin
3. Thomas Hobbes
4. Spanish Armada
5. Versailles
6. Immanuel Kant
7. Schlieffen Plan
8. Ribbentrop-Molotov Treaty
9. Six Day War
10. Maximilian Robespierre

Bonus: Deborah Lipstadt


Essays – 130 (Pick 2)
1. What is the Whig narrative? Give specific examples from the material we covered in class such as the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. How would a Whig view these events? Is the Whig narrative particularly useful? What might some alternatives?
2. What are primary and secondary sources? How does each of these things contribute to an understanding of history? Give specific examples from the reading and your non-fiction book.
3. What were some of the major implications of the Scientific Revolution? Did the Scientific Revolution mean an end to faith? Discuss the religious beliefs of at least three major figures from the Scientific Revolution (e.g. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Bruno, Newton)
4. Describe some of the methods used by the Nazi and Soviet Regimes to promote their views. Can brilliant art be put into the service of totalitarian regimes? What is the moral responsibility of the artist for the uses of their work? Can one separate art from the historical context in which it was created?

My Problem with Terry Eagleton

One of the newest entries into the debate over the New Atheism of Richard Dawkins is Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. Eagleton is on the “God” side of this debate and his book is an attack on Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, dubbed by Eagleton as Ditchkins, in particular. Considering the highly polemical nature of this debate Eagleton has certainly received many supportive and hostile reviews. Two very useful examples of this are Stanley Fish in support and PZ Myers in opposition. Fish's glowing review of Eagleton is particularly interesting as Eagleton takes a swipe at him twice in this very book. I find the book to be well written and at times, when defending the beauty of faith, Eagleton comes almost to the level of C. S. Lewis. I must, in the end though, side with Myers in opposing this book, even if it is for very different reasons.

While most of the attention regarding Eagleton has been about the reason and faith parts of the book, Eagleton’s real focus is on revolution. For Eagleton, as unapologetic Marxist, revolution here means the defeat of global Capitalism. Dawkins and the New Atheist movement like the religious fundamentalists, they love to mock, are products of late Capitalism and its failure of values. The solution for Eagleton lies in abandoning the simple economic calculus of Capitalism and embracing Marxism. It is Marxism that offers the necessary grounding in values to stand against economic inequality and imperialism.

Despite my opposition to Communism, I actually enjoyed this part of the book as well. I see no problem in reconciling religion in general and Christianity in particular with Marxism. Any person of faith who can reconcile his faith with evolution should have little difficulty making his peace with Marxism. I can even admire Eagleton for his subversiveness in wrapping a Marxist polemic between the cover of a theist book. Ordinary passive believers looking for confirmation in their faith are going to be in for a rude surprise. I find his case for Marxism remarkably eloquent and persuasive after a fashion. One of the beauties of being a free-marketer is that I am able absorb the strong points of every other economic ideology. For example, yes I have a problem with CEOs making millions while ordinary workers struggle to get by. I think companies would, in general, be far better off being run by their workers and for their workers. The free-market offers the opportunity for such a proletarian takeover without a drop of blood being shed. (The fact that our government has stepped in to bail out corporate America from a financial mess of their own creation offends me as much as the most ardent Marxist.)

My problem with Eagleton is that his hostility toward Capitalism leads him into an anti-West rant where he blames the United States in particular for pretty much all of the problems in the Third World. Eagleton dances around the issue but in the end, for all intents and purposes, he blames September 11 on the United States since, from his perspective, the United States created the problem of Islamic terrorism. Eagleton may be a bit more subtle than Ward Churchill but that just makes him all the more dangerous. Eagleton is smart enough to know that his case cannot stand critical scrutiny yet continues to try implying it on the sly.

As with many on the radical left, Eagleton’s anti-West sentiments quickly lead him to attacking Israel as the fist of the West’s oppression. Eagleton waxes nostalgically about President Nasser of Egypt. According to Eagleton:

Nasserism, once the dominant secular-nationalist, authoritarian-socialist current in the Arab world, was effectively destroyed by the Western-backed 1967 Israeli victory over Egypt. The Islamism that arouse in the wake of that defeat arraigned Nasser for his failure to lead the Arab forces to victory over Israel. The political balance within the Arab would shifted accordingly, away from a discredited Nasserism to the monarchical, pro-Western Wahhabi fundamentalists of Saudi Arabia. What a secular politics could apparently not accomplish, a fanatically religious one could achieve instead (pg. 106).

So great tragic turning point in history was when the Mein Kampf loving dictator of Egypt failed to destroy its democratic neighbor and massacre its Jewish population.

Considering that Eagleton has no problem with apologizing for Nasser’s atrocities, one might hope he would show Israel the same courtesy. Israel is blamed for perpetuating a massacre on the Jordanians in 1971. Eagleton point blank argues that “without the vast concentration camp known as the Gaza Strip, it is not at all out of the question that the Twin Towers would still be standing" (pg. 107). While the first concentration camps were created by the British during the Boar War, in modern parlance a concentration camp means something very specific. So by using this word, Eagleton can mean only one of three things. He could be a Holocaust denier, who believes that the camps were about as bad as the Palestinian situation. He could be an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, who believes, without evidence, that Israel has murdered millions of Palestinians. Or he could just be a plain liar, seeking to malign Israel and Jews for his own ideological gain.

Eagleton is a textbook example of Dennis Prager’s observation that hatred of the United States and anti-Semitism seem to follow similar lines of reasoning and have common origins. In the end one must view Faith, Reason and Revolution as an attempt to pass off anti-Israel propaganda and plain anti-Semitism under the guise of a bestselling book on religion. The fact that this is only a passing issue in the book makes it all the more dangerous. If Eagleton had been forthright about his agenda this book would never have sold. He is not really interesting in defending Christianity or any form of theism. His real interest is to push for Marxism, an ideology grounded in hatred of the West and of Israel.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Good Deed That Did Come Back to Me

Often times we do things, whether for good or evil, that move on beyond us. These are usually actions that we do casually without much thought. We will usually never learn the results of these actions. This about something that happened to me today, an incident I did come to find out the surprising results of my actions.

This past quarter I assigned my students Deborah Lipstadt’s History on Trial for the last class to act as a summation of everything that I was trying to teach them. (I also ask them to identify Deborah Lipstadt as bonus question on the final.) I had an old copy of the book, a discarded library copy which I had picked up at a used book store. Since we, as teachers, can ask for free desk copies of any book we assign, I asked for an extra copy of the book with the intention that I would have a copy to lend out to any student that really needed it. As a professor of mine once told us: “I would whether you ate then bought books.” The publishing company was nice enough to send me not one but two brand new copies. With three copies of the book in my possession, I decided, several weeks ago, to leave my old copy at the giveaway table on the ground floor of my building. I did this and soon enough the book disappeared. (I guess I probably should have offered it to one of my students, but this was something that I casually did simply to clear space in my room, without putting any thought to it.)

Today one of the building maintenance workers came over to me. This is man whom I talked to on occasion and was somewhat friendly with. I am not sure if he has Asperger syndrome. He certainly fits the stereotype for it; he is clearly a well read individual doing manual labor for a living. He told me that he just read a book that he found on the table. He assumed, based on the topic of the book, that it must have been something of mine and he wanted to thank me and tell me what an impression that book had made on him. That book, of course, was History on Trial. Considering the shooting at the Holocaust Museum yesterday, I believe that Dr. Lipstadt’s message certainly needs to be heard by as many people as possible.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mental Capacity and Autism Rights

I would like to clarify an issue from my earlier post on autism rights. I argued that the concept of rights, by definition would only apply to those on the higher end of the autism spectrum:

Any discussion of rights, by definition, only applies to people who have reached a certain base line of intellectual self-sufficiency. So autism rights, by definition, only apply to autistics on the higher end of the spectrum. If you are capable of reading this piece and understand what I am saying than you can rest assure that you pass the threshold. A completely different discourse would be needed for those on the lower end of the spectrum, one based on care and charity.

This statement has caused offence to a number of people and I apologize for that. Part of the problem is that I am proceeding from a very different understanding of rights which causes me to use the word “right” in a different fashion from that of other people. Most people, coming from the perspective of modern liberalism, use rights in a very open ended fashion. Rights are supposed to make someone human, they are meant to grant people meaning in their lives and solve their problems. For example if homosexuals find themselves unable to marry their partners they are being robbed of some right. Or if blacks are unable to advance in the same proportion as other groups it must be because some right has been violated.

For me rights are something more specific. When I think of rights I think of life, liberty and property. As an extension of these rights, and a necessary protection to them, is the ability to take part in government. By this I mean to the right engage in such actions as running for political office, voting in elections, taking part in the justice system by serving on a jury and serving in the military. To safeguard all of these things we possess civil rights as weapons in our arsenal. There are two particularly important ones that should be mentioned. First there is our freedom of speech, which protects us on a day to day basis. Second, of greater importance though more for extreme situations, there is the right to bear arms. Private citizens have the constitutional right to possess the sort of firearms necessary to wage, if need be, an armed insurrection against the government.

The right to life belongs to all human beings no matter their mental capability. This right, while important, is, for the most part, outside of our political discourse. I have not heard anyone suggest that people on the autism spectrum be put into cattle cars and shipped off to gas chambers. Furthermore this right is passive; it does not allow you to engage in anything proactive. Other people are not allowed to murder autistics, but what can autistics do?

There is the issue of the long term elimination of autistics in the event that a genetic test can be designed to be down fetuses. For those who view rights as something that belongs to groups this becomes a right to life issue. I view rights as something that belong to individuals and I believe that fetuses do not count as human beings, certainly for the purpose of having rights. Because of this I recognize that we do not have any means, through the government, to stop mothers from aborting autistic fetuses. All we can do is wage a social campaign to convince people to not abort autistic fetuses. I have a friend who point blank told me that she would abort a child that she knew was going to be autistic. She would not object to having an Asperger child like me, but she grew up with a traditionally autistic sister and she would not wish to go through that experience as a parent. I can challenge this friend whether she can say she really loves her sister; if she really loved her sister she would rather have gone through all the difficulties she had than not have had the sister at all. I suspect this will be a losing battle and we may, as tragic as it may be, see the elimination of autism. I support personal autonomy and I am willing to fall on my sword to protect this ideal; this is what it means to be an idealist.

Moving away from the right to life, we are left with the rights of liberty, property, participation in government and civil rights. In a sense liberty is passive; you are protected from being wrongfully imprisoned. That being said it also includes the active right to make decisions in one’s life, to pursue one’s own good in one’s own way as long as one does not interfere with the liberties of others. The moment you bring active rights into play you have to consider who has the mental capability to pursue such rights. J. S. Mill said point blank at the beginning of On Liberty that nothing he was about to say was meant to apply to children, the mentally handicapped and, for arguments sake, savages living outside of civilization. When I was a child, as much as I thought it was unjust, my parents ran right over my “rights” to not bathe, stay home from school, stay up beyond their arbitrary bedtime and not eat my vegetables. They even spanked me and put me in time out without the benefit of a trial by my peers. (While this may sound childish, I was the sort of child with the political awareness to try for such a constitutional approach.) So should autistics have the liberty to make personal decisions in their lives like whether they should be institutionalized, allowed to live at home or by themselves? My answer is that it depends on the ability of the individual autistic. I am an adult and I have the mental ability to understand and make decisions regarding my liberty and others can understand what these decisions are. As such I should have the right to exercise these liberties and my decisions about my personal liberties should be respected. If my parents wished to commit me to an institution or force me to come home and the government went along with this it would be a wrongful violation of my liberty. My parents would not be able to use the argument that I am an Asperger since that is a legitimate mode of thinking; nor could they argue that I do not eat enough vegetables, go to bed at an early enough hour or use language that they did not approve of as these would also be legitimate lifestyle choices. Now there are people on the autistic spectrum, even many adults, who are not capable of making such decisions. Such people cannot in any meaningful sense be said to possess liberty and should be left to the care of their legal guardians.

The same applies to the higher rights such as participation in government and civil liberties. All of these things as active liberties require that an individual have the mental capacity to make a meaningful decision. It is not even enough that a person say words, there has to be some sort of intent behind the words. Furthermore those intentions must, by some means, be able to be communicated to society at large. A person who cannot do this is doomed to being a ward of society, without the ability to take on the role of full citizens.

A useful example is that of the deaf. Today it would sound completely ludicrous to say that a deaf person cannot be a CEO of a company, serve in the military (There may be restrictions about on the deaf serving though I doubt they would stand up against a determined lobbying effort particularly if resources were offered to get around the disability. Who would object to a deaf unit operating with sign language?) and be the president of the United States. That being said in the nineteenth century there were few resources available for deaf people and society lacked the ability to effectively educate them. For all intents and purposes, this doomed the deaf to a lifetime of being wards of society, of little use to anyone and unable to take on the role of active citizens with all the rights that entails. Now because of advances in technology and in education the deaf are capable, just like everyone else, in being active citizens and society has been blessed with this beautiful new deaf culture arising in its midst. I see the same thing for the autistic community. Right now there are many autistics, particularly at the "higher end of the spectrum," perfectly capable of being fully active citizens. It is important that such people be supported and that they are allowed to fully take advantage of their rights to make personal decisions, to handle property, to take an active role in government and to use their civil liberties. That being said there are many on the autism spectrum, particularly on the "lower end of the spectrum," who do not have this ability. For such people it is meaningless to talk about them having rights. This is not to say that they should be thrown to the wolves or refused medical care. They are wards of society and must be cared for as such. I hope that with further improvements in technology and education we will find more and more people on the autism spectrum with the ability to take on the role of citizens and will no longer be wards of society. This will make for a stronger and more vibrant autistic community and will benefit society at large.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Joys of Baiting a Neurotypical Bigot: My Conversation with John Best

This past week I have been wasting too much time and having too much fun debating John Best (Foresam) over on his blog, Hating Autism. Best is a parent of a severally autistic child and a radical opponent of neurodiversity. He is obsessed with Ari Ne’eman, the president of ASAN to the point of practically stalking him. According to Best, Ne’eman is a Nazi propagandist in the model of the teacher who started Third Wave. What I find so fascinating about Best is that he is a straight up, unapologetic bigot. Just hearing him speak about gays is almost enough to convince me that gays do require special legal protections. (How about a deal. Gays receive special protection from the John Bests of the world as long as autistics receive similar protections.) Best reminds me a lot of Jewish Philosopher in how he throws ad hominem attacks and implicit conspiracy theories in place of actual arguments. Anyone who fails to agree with him is either brain damaged or part of a pharmaceutical conspiracy. (Maybe I should make a shidduch and set the two of them up together. I am sure they would get along fabulously. It would be a victory for ecumenical bigotry.) I know I should not waste my time arguing with such a creep, but I have a hard time backing off from an argument. At least I hope this serves to elucidate certain concepts and put me on display in my satiric best.

Foresam,
This Third Wave case could be seen as a good example of why the world needs Aspergers. Since we are a lot more person centered (yes I admit that this often causes us to act in a fairly egotistical manner) we are less connected to the group as a whole and are less likely to simply follow the lead. I am not some mindless follower of Ari Ne’eman. I held the views that I hold long before I ever heard of him and even before I ever was aware of a neurodiversity movement.


Izgad,
In your delusional state, you must have missed the 1999 push to begin the misinformation campaign about autism. You follow it hook, line and sinker. Frank Klein brought the Neuroinsanity public in 2004 but the roots of it began with Sinclair, Donna Williams, Jasmine O'Neill and other sadists in the 90's.

Foresam,
If you had bothered to read the link I put up you would have noticed that I differ from the mainline of the neurodiversity movement. I am opposed to identity politics and instead support a more individualistic approach to rights. This is one of the reasons why I did not concern myself, until a few years ago, with spectrum issues. Neurodiversity was not on my radar screen in 1999. Even when I first heard of Asperger syndrome and assumed I had it, I refused to get tested for an official diagnosis. My argument then was that it would not make a difference in my life one way or another. Learning about Asperger syndrome and getting an official diagnoses has given me a language with which to explain how I am different from other people. It has also, for better or for worse, saddled me with a community filled with many talented and wonderful people with troubles. I am working on a Ph.D. in history and run a well-liked blog dealing mostly with issues unrelated to neurodiversity and yet you insist, without ever having met me that I am delusional (in addition to other names). I certainly am not about to trust you in any position of authority over people on the spectrum.

Izgad,
I just read the link. You hurt your case by mentioning queers. Nobody is opposed to you for your religion or your Asperger's. When you align that with queers, you include yourself with severely deranged people. No decent person wants their kids to have to listen to that acceptance crap for perverts. We don't accept it as an alternative lifestyle and we don't want our kids influenced by it. Keep it in the closet and nobody cares. You say you don't align yourself with Ne'eman but you call yourself autistic the same way he does. You aren't. You have Asperger's. Call yourself that and I don't give a damn what you do. Identify yourself as having the same condition as my kid while it looks like your AS is no big deal and I have a big problem with it. You're telling the world that "autism" is no big deal which is completely untrue. Autism is a nightmare for the person who has it and everyone who has to deal with it.I just spoke briefly with Ne'eman on a radio show. He dodged my concerns about his abuse of the word "autism" and ignored my contention that he misrepresented the truth with his anti-cure rhetoric. I was cutoff before I could respond to his nonsensical political crap. Yes, he speaks well when unopposed but he would not fare very well in any sort of debate with someone who sees through his bogus avoidance of the truth.Whether you want to trust me or not is immaterial. I know that autism can and should be cured and that's all that I'm about. As long as liars take an opposing position to that, I'll be around to expose those lies.

Foresam,
Just to clarify, I am a member of Ne’eman’s ASAN. We just started a new chapter here in Columbus OH. I do have my disagreements with Ne’eman but that is only natural where you have different people thinking for themselves and coming to their own conclusions. I am not sure how many people with Asperger syndrome you have actually met. My experience has been that most of us come to neurodiversity on our own and it is this that leads us to seek each other out. It is then becomes this mind opening surprise when we meet each other and realize that other people have had these same experiences and reached the same conclusions. Neurodiversity is not some sort of brainwashing movement. If you think so than you clearly have not met many of the people on the ground. I listened to a recording of the show. It was nice to hear the voice behind the writer. I guess we must have heard two very different exchanges. You came out and starting throwing accusations at Ne’eman, none of which have anything to do with reality. At the moment Asperger syndrome is listed as a type of autism. No one is conspiring here. We are simply running with the medical classification on the ground. No one is trying to deny anyone medical attention. I think Ne’eman did a very good job on this front outlining the sorts of help he is trying to get for everyone from across the spectrum, including your son. I think that any fair minded person listening to that exchange would have come away thinking that you were a brain damaged pig and that Ne’eman was a sterling gentleman. Now who stands in need of a cure?
I have no idea what you think about Judaism but you have already gone on the record as saying that Aspergers are mentally ill and need to be cured. That sounds like opposition to me.
Izgad,
Saying that Asperger's needs to be cured is simply pointing out that it can now be cured for the older crowd who grew up when it wasn't treatable. Of course, that information needs to be given to the caretakers of the Aspies so decisions regarding cures are left in the hands of people whose brains haven't been damaged.The fact I stated to Ne'eman was that he is not autistic. Pointing out that fraud on his part is just a statement of fact. Asperger's is not listed as a type of autism; it's listed as part of the spectrum. The only people that the word "autism" applies to specifically is the lowest functioning ones. Why would anyone with the highest functioning label on the spectrum want to identify themselves as the lowest functioning? That makes no sense...unless you are engaging in propaganda.Ne'eman went on GMA and said that being anti-cure does not mean anti-progress...very carefully chosen words meant to mislead...LFA's do not progress...ever...so saying he's for progress makes him look sane but he knows that the LFA's will never progress without the medical treatment that he calls "quackery". The fact is that chelation has been a standard for mercury poisoning for 70 years. It's taught in med schools. Autism experts refined it since 2000 and now kids are being cured. Ne'eman denies all of that and that makes him a liar.You're right. When I was cut off from responding, it didn't give me a chance to explain the devious rhetoric Ne'eman had used and it made him appear properly concerned about LFA's when the truth was that he was advocating for letting them rot by only advocating for "evidence based" medicine, a bullshit term that won't ever cure anyone. That's the chance you take when you call a show like that...WTF.

Foresam,
You cannot have it both ways, to say that Aspergers are not autistic and that you have nothing against them while at the same time saying that Aspergers are mentally ill and need to be cured. You wish to have decisions made by the caretakers of Asperger adults. Believe it or not many of us are completely self-sufficient. (Some of us even go on to earn advanced degrees and even Noble prizes.) By denying this you are taking away our personhood. This is the basic foundation of bigotry. Asperger syndrome is classified as an ASD. That stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. Notice the first word there, autism. I would love to see Asperger syndrome taken off of the autism spectrum, we have nothing to gain by being compared to your son. It implies that we are in some way less then fully functional. Right now we have been stuck with the word so you cannot blame us making use of it. Right now both sides are stuck with an open ended term and forced to fashion the word to suit their situation. Your side has much more to gain by having us labeled as autistics than we do. If we are not autistic than you have no autism epidemic. Autism Speaks had no problem labeling me as autistic when they wanted to recruit me for their side.
You had the opening words of that conversation and you already sounding like an ass. You said your piece and he said his. The segment was about him, not you.

Izgad,
If Asperger's was not a mental illness, it would not be listed in a book of mental illnesses, the same place being queer used to be listed. I suppose your next ploy will be to follow the queers and ask that it be removed from the book.The problem with that though, stupid, is that people who actually suffer from Asperger's do need and want a cure so they can function better. I think a better option would be for people like you to just accept that you're a little screwy and undiagnose yourselves. Then you can just be considered your average, everyday type of screwball and you can go yelping about acceptance and respect for screwballs.It doesn't matter what term they use to describe people like my son. Vaccine induced brain damage is more descriptive than "autism", don't you think? The point is that that brain damage can be cured. So we don't need some lying, pseudointellectual, politician wannabe like Ne'eman telling the world that our brain damaged kids don't want to be cured. Got it? If I had said that on the radio, do you think they would have let me complete my thought before they shut me off?

Foresam,
Getting Asperger syndrome removed from the list of mental illnesses is a major goal of mine. And yes I do view the gay rights movement as a model and a reason for hope; it is not as if what we do violates any major religious tenants so there is no reason for society not to embrace us. So now not only are we not real autistics but we are also not real Aspergers. You have to stop contradicting yourself. You seem to take a lot on yourself in your willingness diagnose people you have never met.There are a lot of screwballs out there. Asperger syndrome is something more specific. It implies a particular way of viewing the world and processing information. I am not a scientist, but last I checked healing damage done to the brain, unlike other organs is a bit problematic. Brain cells, unlike other cells, do not regenerate. Your brain finishes developing when you are an infant and things go downhill from there. Every brain cell you lose from getting smashed is a brain cell that will not come back.

Izgad,
Any screwball can get himself dx'd with AS today. The key to knowing whether or not you actually have it is if you want a cure or not. If you don't think you need a cure, then you're just a nitwit who used AS as an excuse to explain goofiness. People who really have AS have real problems and all of them would like to be cured.

Foresam,
Asperger syndrome refers to a deficiency in terms of processing non analytical forms of information, particularly body language and other social cues. It is also often accompanied with above average abilities in terms of processing analytical forms of information such as written texts. There is the well known Simon Baron Cohen test that you can find online. Take a look at that test and you will see that there is nothing there about wanting to be cured. By the way, normal people score on average a sixteen on this test, Aspergers usually score over thirty. I scored a thirty two. I also got an official diagnosis so there are doctors who can testify that I have Asperger syndrome. I would be careful if I were you about throwing random accusations at people whom you do not know. You also have a habit of changing the meaning of terms whenever you are losing an argument. That is being intellectually dishonest. Notice how you have gone from saying that you have nothing against Aspergers to saying that it is a disease needing to be cured. That is called hypocrisy.

Izgad,
All conditions on the autism spectrum should be cured. That's the humane way to deal with diminished mental capacities.I don't care what Baron Cohen conjured up for a test. Curing illness is humane. Any other attitude is nuts. Foresam,So you admit that Asperger syndrome is part of the autism spectrum. So Ne’eman is no longer a liar when he claims to have autism. Again Asperger syndrome does not mean a diminished mental capacity, particularly since many people with Asperger syndrome have significantly above average skills in specific fields. Asperger syndrome even helped someone like Vernon Smith win a Noble prize for economics.

Izgad,
You claim to be a PhD student but you're having a lot of trouble with a very simple definition. Autism is a specific part of the autism spectrum. Asperger syndrome is a different specific category of that spectrum.Sorry Izgad but, when having AS keeps you from being mentally capable of enjoying a full and rewarding social life, that falls under diminished mental capacity. Nobody deserves to suffer in any aspect of their life to support the vaccine makers poisoning of people. They should all be cured based on the whole person concept.If Smith is such a genius with economics, you'd think he would use those skills to make himself a fortune at the racetrack.

Foresam,
When most people use the word autism they are referring to the autism spectrum. That is a perfectly legitimate use of the word. The idea here is that there is a spectrum of different autisms. I have lived my life among neurotypicals whose brains are so wired to pursuing their “full and rewarding social life” that they are incapable of pursuing advanced degrees studying things like early modern apocalypticism. To me that signifies a “diminished mental capacity.” I think that all such people should be “cured.” May I even suggest that we start with you? We could put you on a diet, try pumping you for toxins and even put you in an oxygen machine. Considering what a stuck up neurotypical bigot you are, we will probably have to resort to the tried and true measures of the period I study and put you on the rack and try balancing out your humors. If we kill you it will be in the cause of saving the world from their neurotypical selves. (This is a joke. Aspergers are capable of having a sense of humor.)

Izgad,
Only a propaganda wizard would call himself autistic when he really has Asperger's. It's funny how the only liars who do this are also opposed to a cure and defend the vaccine makers who caused all of the autism, isn't it? The rest of what you say is inane since normal people gain advanced degrees much more often than people with AS, have much higher IQ's and have a social life. Foresam, And only a bigot would assume that people were lying simply for an innocent use of the word autism and for simply following the established view in the field of medicine today. (Note that I am not taking a side one way or another as to the causes of autism.) Can you quote one study to support this claim besides for your own bigoted imagination? Curious, what sort of advanced degree do you have? It is a fact that Aspergers have IQs to match the general population and because of their focused interests have an advantage in their specific area of interest.

Izgad,
Are PhD students taught to use name calling when they're losing arguments? My statement that you are all propaganda wizards is true but you calling me a bigot is a blatant lie. How can one be a bigot who is trying to see all people with autism get the help they need?The word "autism" is not being used innocently by Aspies who oppose curing people with actual "autism." It is all part of a plan to misinform the public and influence public opinion. Besides bastardizing the meaning of the word, it also brings you some sympathy from uninformed people who believe that you have overcome a similar horror that befell all of the kids with true autism.I don't need a study to see that Aspies are far less intelligent than normal people. Normal people have sense enough to see a doctor and make themselves well when they have something wrong with them. They don't go running around celebrating having a mental illness. Of course, when you are not mentally ill to begin with, it's much easier to recognize a problem if your brain stops functioning properly. That's what you Aspies can't understand. You have no reference point for what normalcy is so you have been sucked in by the propaganda that allows you to believe you are "different" and not damaged. We who do not have brain damage know better and we would like to help you, not enable your delusions that keep you trapped in a mentally deficient state.

Foresam,
There is a word for someone who spews ad hominem attacks and calls people names and then complains when names get thrown back, hypocrite. (Keep in mind that this whole conversation started with you calling someone a Nazi.) I use the word bigot very carefully and you are a textbook example of one. You take your perspective and the perspective of your group as “natural,” assume that everyone else should be like that and that everyone who is not is somehow deficient. Let us take your previous statement and edit it to apply to another group:
I don't need a study to see that Jews are far less intelligent than normal Christian people. Normal Christian people have sense enough to see a priest and make themselves well when they have something unsaved about them. They don't go running around celebrating having the mental illness of not accepting Jesus as their personal savior. Of course, when you are not mentally ill to begin with, it's much easier to recognize a problem if your brain stops functioning properly. That's what you Jews can't understand. You have no reference point for what normal Christian life is so you have been sucked in by the rabbinic propaganda that allows you to believe you are "different" and not unsaved. We who do not suffer from not having Christ in our lives know better and we would like to help you by showing you the Light, not enable your delusions that keep you trapped in a mentally deficient Jewish state.

Izgad,
Exposing propaganda is not name calling. How the Hell did you get into a PhD program? I didn't think there was anyone stupid enough to equate brain damage to religion. Do you think there's someone on Earth dumb enough to buy your idiotic analogy? Foresam, You have a habit of simply going back to your original claim to support yourself even when you have done nothing to actually back up your original claim. In academic language that is called circular reasoning; you may have heard of the concept. As to the issue of religion, you seem to be unaware of the history of Jewish-Christian polemics. There is a long history, going back to the New Testament, of Christians arguing that Jews rejected Jesus because of some sort of theological blindness if not downright satanic control. I simply gave you an updated version of this argument, substituting brain damage for satanic possession. There is no meaningful difference between the claims. Keep in mind that the issue of brain damage is what is being contested here so you cannot simply retreat into declaring I have brain damage. (By the way I was just speaking to a student of mine and after being in my class for a full quarter and getting his fill of my antics he said that he does not think I have brain damage.)

Izgad,
Religion has nothing to do with autism. You are now engaged in an argument to absurdity.

Foresam,
You seem to fail to realize that, in the specific case I bring, the issue stops being religion and becomes one of questioning one’s mental capacity. We are faced with an issue of tolerance 101, to recognize, particularly in matters outside of empirical evidence and where the issue is not physical harm, that people are going to disagree and one going to have to live with that without simply passing people off as retarded or satanic. Your idea of the good life might be hanging out at a bar with friends; mine might be sitting by myself with a book. Your goal in life might be winning friends and influencing people; mine might be stroking my chin and contemplating the nature of the universe. There is no piece of empirical evidence you can bring to show that your life is better. My lifestyle choices do not cause anyone any physical harm. For that matter I am a productive member of society and ask for no special treatment as an Asperger. This entitles me to the same respect given to every functional adult. Izgad, When your BS rhetoric interferes with autistic kids being cured, you forfeit any right to respect you might think you have. Foresam, And when, I as a Jew, plot to take over the world and murder Christian children to use their blood for Passover I guess I have also forfeited my right to tolerance. Outside of the games Risk and Civilization, I have not tried to take over the world. Believe it or not I have murdered any Christian children. And would you believe it neither I nor Ari Ne’eman have ever tried to stop anyone from getting medical care. (Ari may be a member of the Elders of Zion; you will have to ask him.) Ari has been critical of certain methods of medical care. I have kept out of this issue as I in no way feel qualified to comment on it one way or another. Your fight is with the APA and they are not taking their orders from us. Operating under a system of tolerance you have to give opponents the benefit of the doubt and not simply put up conspiracy theories without evidence. Unless you can produce a paper trail to show Ari plotting with the pharmaceutical companies you have to accept that he believes what he believes. The moment one brings in conspiracy theories than one becomes justified in using illiberal means to enforce one’s views. In free societies we have an implicit deal; you do not take as your starting point that Ari and I are plotting to ally the Jewish banks with the pharmaceutical companies to take over the world and we do not accuse you of plotting to murder us high functioning members of the autism spectrum in our beds. This is in your interest because the moment I accept as my starting point that you are plotting to murder me there is no way you could ever prove that I am wrong and I become morally justified in killing you in self defense. I hope you see what a cliff jump into insanity this is.

Izgad,
Wrong, both of you have tried to prevent kids from getting the right medical treatment. Every time you claim to be autistic and don't need to be cured, you are leading uneducated parents to accept your hogwash and you both know it. Ne'eman talks about kids receiving treatment but it only includes the obsolete junk like speech, play and physical therapy that does zippo for low functioning kids. This is good propaganda since he phrases it vaguely and some people may believe that he advocates for addressing vaccine damage medically when we know that's not the case.I suppose you'll have me believe that you're as stupid as Phil Gluyas and actually believe what you're saying next.You admit to being my opponent which means you admit to being a liar about your motives. (Your red herring Jewish/Zionist convolution isn't going to work either.) Having an autistic son makes me your ally as far as tolerance goes. How could I be anything else? Every parent, child and adult on the "autism spectrum" is on the same wavelength there. But, this is not about tolerance at all. This is only about you and ASAN misrepresenting the true horror of "autism" by misusing the words to misidentify yourselves, thus ascribing a need for tolerance to a condition that is so horrible (autism) that there can be no tolerance for it. The people so afflicted won't ever even know the meaning of the word tolerance. Educated people like you and Ne'eman know that autism is a nightmare. I don't need a paper trail to prove that you're misrepresentations are intentional.

Foresam,
You are not my ally. You would force me to take all sorts of untested meds to try to be "cured." You even deny my ability and my right to make decisions about my own body. This is besides for the fact that you have given me no proof that you are not a eugenics supporting Nazi, coming to cut my throat.
I am not lying. When anyone asks what I mean when I say that I am autistic, I readily tell them that I am an Asperger, which is on the autism spectrum, and that this is different from traditional autism. If I were really trying to hide the horrors of autism, I would probably be a bit more devious.

Izgad,
If you are being honest, aside from your eugenics nonsense, you will call Ne'eman and tell him to change the name of ASAN to "Asperger's" SAN from "Autistic" SAN. If he won't agree to that, you should resign in protest and help me in exposing him for the fraud that he is.

Foresam,
That is actually something that I would be open to in theory. The problem is that the high end of the autism spectrum includes other groups besides for Aspergers and I would want to include them as well. At the end of the day I am okay with the current name because, by definition, any discussion about rights applies only to people of a certain level of functionality. (anyone who can follow a basic discussion about the nature of rights) When Jefferson said that all men had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” he did not have your son in mind. Your son may have certain legal protections but it is meaningless to talk about him having proactive legal rights like voting, buying/selling property or serving on a jury or in the military. This does not apply in the reverse when you talk about eliminating the entire autism spectrum. You do mean eliminating people like me.

Izgad,
Jefferson would have included a cure under pursuit of happiness. He would have laughed at your (ASAN's)anti-cure position regarding LFA.
While nobody is trying to force a cure on you, it should be implied that by refusing one, you give up any benefits such as social security. You can pick whatever nits you like regarding distinctions between HFA and AS. It would not follow that you could then pick similar nits between HFA and PDD/NOS.
ASAN may get me off their ass by forgetting they ever heard the word "autism" but others who have kids with Asperger's will assuredly still take issue with you about being anti-cure when they watch their kids struggling. Since being opposed to a cure is crazy to begin with, it would be better for ASAN to say nothing at all about it and just go about the business of gaining tolerance and heightening awareness against bullying.

You don't see any pro cure people coming out in favor of bullying Aspies, do you?

I decided by this point that I should probably give this a rest and let him have the last word. He was simply restating his positions so I had little hope of baiting him into saying anything else of interest.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Minuets, Sonatas and Politics in the West Bank: Another Excuse for the New York Times to Show its Anti-Israel Bias

The New York Times has an article about the state of classical music in the Palestinian territories, “Minuets, Sonatas and Politics in the West Bank.” In the article we are put face to face with the struggles of Palestinian children and adults as they strive to transcend the struggles of the world around them through embracing music. For those of you under the impression that the Palestinians have done nothing but produce a generation of jihadists and suicide bombers, “a new generation of Palestinians who have been swept up in a rising tide of interest in Western classical music in the last several years.” Now you may ask who is to blame for the difficult situation these people are in. The New York Times’ evenly balanced response is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians are at fault through their mutual prejudices. The author, Daniel J. Wakin, notes that: “across the border in Israel, which has a mother lode of classical music talent, there is little awareness that Palestinians are pursuing the same artistic tradition. That is perhaps no surprise in a conflict where mutual ignorance is prodigious.”

I have no problem with writing stories about the real life struggles of Palestinians trying to make a better life for themselves. I actually sympathize with them. If I were writing this story it would be about my belief in the power of music to defeat tyranny and put a candle to darkness. This would lead me to asking questions like how much money is being sent by Arab countries to support music programs in the Palestinian territories or why have the Palestinians, or the Arab world for that matter, not produced a world class orchestra like the Israeli Philharmonic. Could it be that a society that values suicide bombers more than musicians has no interest in peace and should not be trusted to make peace?

Thomas Friedman famously observed that no two countries with McDonalds in them have gone to war with each other. The reason for this is that a McDonalds requires the existence of a well developed middle class, a group of people notorious for not wanting to fight wars. I would add a corollary to this principle: any country that does not have a McDonalds should not be trusted in a peace treaty. There are simply too many entrenched powers open to breaking it. Following this line of reasoning, I propose that we add a world class classical orchestra to this list. To build a world class orchestra requires a society that cultivates higher culture. In my mind this is a reason to take a leap of faith with them to make peace. So here is the Benzion Chinn doctrine for signing peace treaties. If you wish to make a treaty with me you better have a Starbucks in your country for me to sign the treaty in. (There are no kosher McDonalds outside of Israel and Starbucks represents the same middle class values to an even greater extreme.) You must also produce a homegrown world class classical orchestra to come to this Starbucks and play for us while we sign.

So here is to world peace over a venti latte to the accompaniment of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”